Friday, October 17, 2008

New York Times Covers Laurita Winery in New Egypt, NJ

Dairy Land Yields to Wine Country
Published: October 16, 2008
New York Times

A Landscape Reimagined
This is the first in a series of articles about wineries in the New York region and the people behind them.

RANDY F. SHEA had been trying unsuccessfully to sell 250 acres of dairy land with a friend for four years when it occurred to him one afternoon in October 1994 that vineyards thrive on land like this.

As he walked the property with its fertile, sandy soil, he said he looked at a rise sloping sharply toward a drainage basin and then began comparing characteristics of the property with knowledge he had recently acquired from a wine class about ideal growing conditions for grapes.

“I remember pointing, ‘That’s where the pond is,’ ” said Mr. Shea, 65, a property lawyer. “That’s where the vineyard is. That’s where the winery should be. I learned that through my feet. You don’t totally understand a piece of property through your head and eyes. You have to use your feet.”

The land had been under contract to one of Mr. Shea’s clients, who wanted to build a residential subdivision and golf course. That client could not afford to buy it, so Mr. Shea took over the contract and bought the land in 1990.

Mr. Shea’s friend, James R. Johnson Jr., 55, a site contractor, agreed that the land could be a vineyard.

In 1998, they measured off 20 acres and began planting European vinifera — chardonnay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Four years later, they marked off 20 acres and started planting pinot gris, lemberger, chambourcin, Norton and zweigelt. In 2003, their first two wines were merlot and chardonnay.

On Sept. 20, Mr. Shea and Mr. Johnson opened the Laurita Winery to the public and thrust themselves into the growing New York region wine industry. The name, Laurita, comes from Mr. Shea’s mother’s first name, Rita, and Mr. Johnson’s mother’s first name, Laura.

In New Jersey, the number of bonded wineries has increased to 45 since the 1981 repeal of a post-Prohibition state law that limited the number of wineries to one per million residents. If the law were still in effect, it would allow for eight wineries in New Jersey.

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